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Backplane Standard Gains Allies

Supporters of the PCI Express Advanced Switching standard piled on the enthusiasm yesterday, with 20 companies joining the Arapahoe Working Group finalizing the standard. New members include EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK).

What could arise is a standard interface usable by switch fabrics and system backplanes. Historically, OEMs haven't bothered standardizing these interfaces, and many continue to use proprietary versions. Advanced Switching could change that, paving the way for more OEMs to use off-the-shelf I/O chips, theoretically saving money and development time.

This won't overtake the entire industry, however. Low-end systems that get by with Ethernet-based backplanes (with standard interfaces such as XAUI) can continue to do so, and Advanced Switching likewise won't alter the proprietary design of high-end boxes such as the Cisco GRS 12000, says Rajeev Kumar, program manager at Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC). But there's an enormous middle tier of boxes whose creators would like a standard interface, he says.

Aside from creating a standard, Advanced Switching has the appeal of using PCI-based hardware -- which, because it's developed for PCs, is cheap and plentiful.

"The PHY layer -- the SerDes -- is the same for both [Express PCI and Advanced Switching]. It's the protocol for handling more complex switching that's added," says Beth Logan, Agere Systems' (NYSE: AGR.A) representative to the Arapahoe technical committee.

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